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Toronto storm provides adventure for Queen’s lineman

July 15, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

Even for a guy who was there, John Miniaci says, it’s hard to believe.

“You look at the neighbourhood and it’s like nothing happened,” he said. “People with pretty much their entire basement on their front lawn, and large bins in their driveway trying to clean up the mess, but now it’s just amazing — all the water’s gone.”

Last Monday, Miniaci, the all-star defensive lineman returning this fall for his fifth season of football with the Queen’s Golden Gaels, was in the middle of the biggest storm to hit Toronto since Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

“It was a pretty eventful Monday night,” he said.

Oddly enough, he’d just returned from Calgary — where he saw the after-effects of the serious flooding there — the day before the deluge hit his hometown.

It was raining hard, Miniaci recalled, but he thought not much of it until the power went out at his home in the west-end Royal York-Eglinton neighbourhood of Toronto, hard by the Humber River.

“I took a look outside with my mom and we noticed this huge lineup of cars on my street,” he said. “People were pulling into our driveway, trying to turn around, and we were saying, ‘What’s going on?’ because from our angle we couldn’t really see anything.

“I went outside and looked to the corner and my neighbourhood was transformed into a river. It was unbelievable. Water was rising up through the sewers, like a mini waterfall, waves of water coming down the street.”

Miniaci grabbed an umbrella and went outside to find several cars disabled in the water at the corner. He went to a neighbour’s house, where the swimming pool had begun to overflow into the basement. “He started to fill me in on what was going on in the city.”

As the rain continued to fall, Miniaci went to the cars, “to see if there were people in there stuck or stranded who needed anything.”

“Some of the cars in the water were holding up traffic, so I began to push some of the cars out, off to the side, into driveways … to clear a lane of traffic.”

While the sewers were overflowing on his street, a block down water was gathering on another. Then it, too, began to move, Miniaci said, until it “took a turn” and began cascading through the backyards of houses on the cross-street.

“Down peoples’ driveways,” Miniaci said, “was just a waterfall.”

At that point, Miniaci said he began to knock on some doors.

“It’s a neighbourhood with quite a few elderly people, so I went to a couple of houses just to make sure they were okay, helped them shut off alarms, get to houses that were higher on the street,” he said. “Some I knew, the majority I didn’t know. I was just knocking on doors to see if they needed help, handing out my cell phone if they had to call anyone for help.

“Some of the sights I saw were unbelievable. I went to this one house and their whole basement was under the water, right up to the stairs. Another one, it had a drain in the centre of its basement and it was literally like a water fountain. Water was shooting up through the drain, blew the lid off, shooting up through the drain and hitting the ceiling.

“It was unbelievable, the power of the water.”

Curious to know what else what might be going on, Miniaci went to Eglinton Avenue, the main thoroughfare through his neighbourhood. “I was about thigh deep in water,” said the 6-foot-1, 280-pound lineman. He joined the corps of people who were getting out of their cars to push the stalled vehicles off the road.

When firefighters arrived, Miniaci was among the citizens enlisted to redirect traffic.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “People would see five or six cars that were just dead in the water, and us trying to push them out, and there were people still trying to motor through it. I couldn’t believe it.”

As it turned out, except for being without electricity for a day, the Miniaci residence was unscathed.

“We were right in the middle of where it was happening but I’m on a little bit of a downhill, so water from my backyard was just coming down along the sides of my house,” he said. “That was one of the reasons why I was able to be out and about to help others.”

Two things from the experience will stay with Miniaci, a history major who came to Queen’s from St. Michael’s College — the scope of the event and the sense of community he felt as he was out in the middle of it.

“Some people were still in their houses, still struggling, but I had a couple of neighbours helping me push cars,” he said. “The section where I was there was a lot of people with basements being flooded so they were having problems of their own but I was amazed to see the group of people who got out of their cars to help out on Eglinton Avenue.

“It was incredible. There were two random guys helping this one lady trying to get her car going once we got it out of the water. They gave her a ride to her sister’s house, completely out of their way.

“Stuff like that, peoples’ responses to a situation like that, was pretty incredible to see, actually … all the people, going out of their way, trying to help. It’s pretty nice. It’s hope for humanity, in a way.”

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